“It’s better than having an Applebee’s in the lobby,” said Brian Williams, the NBC anchor who lives 34 stories above the restaurant Le Cirque, in the Bloomberg building at 58th Street and Lexington Avenue.
“Nothing against Applebee’s!” Mr. Williams added. He stood almost inch-deep in the restaurant’s plush crimson carpeting, next to a model of the building complex that had been somewhat crudely constructed from chocolate, never the perfect building material, as some 2,000 of his friends and neighbors—and a few strangers—milled about the restaurant at its opening party May 18.
The Bloomberg building has been open for almost two years. It’s still kind of new. But under the accumulated glances of millions, skyscrapers in New York have a way of becoming invisible, part of the terrain, of appearing to have always been there, very quickly. That’s what happened to the Bloomberg building on May 18, and three nights later when another party thrown by Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl brought the restaurant elite out to toast the opening of the third Manhattan incarnation of Le Cirque.
From the elliptical driveway-cum-courtyard up to its 55th story, this is very much the house Michael Bloomberg built. He didn’t, actually; Steve Roth did. But when his company leased 700,000 square feet of office space in the building, the transaction that identified the building with him—and his era—was complete. Here more than anywhere, an anthropology of New Yorkers under the Bloomberg administration—under the techno-meritocratic, all-seeing free-market gaze of new urban Republicanism—is possible. It’s the city of the future now that the future is upon us, unimaginable in the good old days of Modernism: Everyone and everything is tagged, ID’d and totally transparent to everyone and everything else; it is the total inter-subjectivity of the ideal market.
And what is opaque, what stands out, what fades away, what is tucked away is the proper subject of its politics: It works itself on people, not the other way around. It’s a building that stands as a proscriptive, as well. Its formal name, One Beacon Court, refers to the beacon of light that emanates from the top of the tower.
It’s a strange beacon, in that few see it—it’s a little like the Mayor!—except from the towers of other buildings, maybe Central Park, certainly the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. That’s because it sits between the relatively narrow, cluttered concourses of Lexington and Third Avenues, between 58th and 59th streets.
“Don’t do that,” a security guard said as a guest stubbed a cigarette out on the carefully-chosen paving stones of the central driveway that cuts through the block, delivering black town cars to the restaurant’s doors.
“Ask anyone. You’re not allowed to smoke here. You have to go out to the street, either 59th or 58th.”
The guest stooped to pick up the offending butt.
“Don’t do that!” the guard said. “It’s dirty now!”
Apologetically, the guest moved to shake the guard’s hand in an awkward conciliatory gesture: “I’m not trying to give you any trouble, I won’t do it again.”
“Don’t touch me!” the guard said. “You’ll get that smoke smell on me!”
It’s the Bloomberg building all right, a home to the ethic of his age and his administration, the astonishing cops of hysterical cleanliness in a once-grungy town—just as the Mayor is triumphantly the astonishing cop of fiscal success (our bonds are A+, the highest ever!)—in a once bankrupt town. It is manifested also in an obsessive antipathy to ornament, the order of the day at the Bloomberg building. A Bloombergian utopia, from the Greek for “no place.”
But it is someplace.
THE CHOCOLATE MODEL THAT BRIAN WILLIAMS stood next to was a useful visualization tool: It was brown, of course, where the skin of the real building is composed of oblong panes of smoky-looking glass, separated into stories with white, contemporary-looking cornices represented on the chocolate model with chalky blue stripes.
The square pillar that made up the left half of the chocolate model stood for the 55-story, telescoping square tower that takes up the Lexington Avenue side of the block. On the right-hand side, a shorter chunk of chocolate, a squat outhouse, represented the second building in the complex, on the Third Avenue side, where Le Cirque sits on its ground floor. The space between the two represented what the real building’s occupants call “the Link,” the chief architectural innovation of the design: It is the ellipse-shaped courtyard, surrounded by a glass, horseshoe-shaped structure rising from the space between the two buildings up to the seventh story.
Mr. Williams lives in the top portion of the tower, with gutty Yankees import Johnny Damon and Phillies slugger Bobby Abreu, singer Beyoncé Knowles and, in a corporate Big Love, both former GE chief Jack Welch and current G.E. chief Jeffrey Immelt.
The rest of the building provides the 700,000 square feet of office space that is home to Bloomberg LP, the Mayor’s financial-news service. In the bottom floors: Home Depot, Container Store, a children’s clothing boutique, H&M, consumer branches of Bank of America and Wachovia. Just another 21st-century middle-class tower on the good old Upper East Side.
It’s tempting to view the Bloomberg building, the bulk of which houses Bloomberg LP, as a sort of Pullman Town—and if you don’t know what that is, check your college history and sociology texts: homes, a central factory, a restaurant—not the kind factory people eat in necessarily, but a restaurant—shops, a sort-of central square (more on that later).
Of course it’s not. The people who live in the apartments don’t work at Bloomberg. They shop in the H&M when it’s raining, and they pay service people to pick things up at the Home Depot. Nor will most of the people who work at Bloomberg ever eat at Le Cirque, although they can smell the cooking for free, and the Mayor provides a lot of amazing free food at the company canteen.
But the building’s multi-dexterousness is purely a function of the modern Manhattan real-estate market, where tall towers are wanted but the office space that stacks the stories up aren’t.
And yet, taking a break from the second party in five days to promote the restaurant that is so sui generis that promotion seems impossible, it was not difficult to sense the Bloomberg aura that permeates the building.
This courtyard, to hear the developer tell the tale, is the heart and soul of the building, and it is the main example of its fastidiousness. It functions as a driveway that cuts through the block. In the center is what looks something like a traffic rotary, but with nothing in the center. The entire area is paved with square quartz-like stones, pink striated with dark gray and black. The course of the paving follows the contours of the drive, which in turn follows the shape of the glass curtain wall that surrounds it.
There are entries to a Starbucks coffee shop, signified by a lit-up, circular Starbucks logo; the glassy back entrance into the Bloomberg LP offices, marked with a chrome pole outside the door that reads “Bloomberg” in lit-up blue letters that run up its side; an entrance to the apartment complex at the top of the building, marked only by the word “ONE” engraved in a stone lintel; and the entrance to Le Cirque, marked only by a small, red, lit-up logo suspended from the canopy that houses the entry doors.
It took the developer, Steve Roth, a year to choose the paving stones with the building’s architect, Cesar Pelli. During that time, he considered various centerpieces for the central courtyard of the building—sculptures, mostly.
In the end he decided to leave it blank.
That will seem a big mistake to anyone who was accustomed to reaching the old Le Cirque through the magnificent courtyard of the New York Palace Hotel.
The glass windows of Le Cirque, which take up much of the curtain wall, are corrugated, as if even the pared-down decorative conceits of the restaurant were too flashy to be seen from the courtyard without some sort of muting. No circus here, please.
It’s only ironic that, entering the courtyard-cum-driveway at the center of the building and looking up at the top of the “ellipse” of glass wall above, one guest remarked: “It looks like you’re at the bottom of a toilet-bowl!”
But whatever else is true, the courtyard is memorable. It gives the visitor, even the resident, the vertiginous feeling of swirling down into the center of a drain, standing there.
“So much for the days of a lazy driveway and a sedate entrance,” Mr. Williams had said. “It’s fantastic. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
The offices of Bloomberg L.P. have their main entrance on the Lexington Avenue side of the complex, at No. 731.
The lobby is large and so devoid of ornament that it’s difficult even to discern the source of the soft, amber light that permeates the room.
A visitor to the building first must check in at the desk, where a photograph is taken and an ID tag is produced on the spot. The same image taken for the tag then rotates on monitors behind the desk, with the visitors’ name and pictures of the people whom they are visiting.
Patrick Beehan, a tall, well-constructed young man not long out of college, was dressed typically for Bloomberg in a dress shirt and tie with no jacket, his ID tag and another, “biometric” tag with an image of his thumbprint dangling from his neck. (In the Bloomberg building, employees call these “B-UYnits.” They get you through doors, and allow you to log on to the system from home.)
He has only worked in the global customer support department of Bloomberg LP for two months. But the Bloomberg ethos—it is too unsystematic to be a “philosophy”—is easily absorbed. When Mr. Beehan greeted a reporter in the lobby, he sounded house-proud.
“In our corporate culture, we like to promote communication,” said Mr. Beehan. “You’re going to see that in the design of the building.”
Gesturing toward a large open-plan bullpen, he said: “Part of our design here is that we don’t have any cubicles,” said Mr. Beehan, of the vast open rooms chock full of Bloomberg Terminals (these constitute the proprietary hardware of the Bloomberg information network) with no barriers in between the employees.
“That’s the open communication. You’ll see that all of the conference rooms are open, clear glass,” said Mr. Beehan.
“Our C.E.O. and our chairman of the board have desks right out in the open like everybody else,” he said, and motioned nearby on the busy sixth floor. “The chairman of the board—the gentleman who replaced Mike Bloomberg—his desk is back there behind the koi pond. Right there out in the open. The C.E.O. sits around the corner.”
What about that koi pond?
“There’s a lot of fish tanks,” said Mr. Beehan. “This is our Japanese koi pond. The idea behind the fish tanks is that back in the early 80’s when Michael Bloomberg was starting the company, he had a small fish bowl on everybody’s desk. To get the company off the ground, employees were working 12- or 14-hour days. He wanted them to be able to zone out, take five minutes, take a break, gather their thoughts and come back to work. We have over 8,000 employees, so a fish tank on every desk doesn’t work.”
But fish tanks seemed to be a guiding visual theme in the workplace. “One of our corporate-culture themes is ‘transparency’ at Bloomberg,” said Mr. Beehan. “I’ve been here about two months, so I’m fairly new, but I know a lot of what’s going on. I have access to upper-level management.”
There is art as well, and a lot of it: There’s a large black sculpture suspended from the ceiling, near the television studio. It’s called Cloud, by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. “He actually took a model of a super-cell thundercloud that researchers had on a computer at the University of Illinois,” said Mr. Beehan. “He used a milling machine to make this scale model.”
On the sixth floor, there is a hulking black chandelier that hangs low to the ground, with lights consistently flashing. The sculpture is called Image (Rabbit’s Moon), by Raymond Williams, by the artist Cerith Wyn Evans. And what about the flashing sequence of lights? The flickering is actually Morse code, spelling out the word “image” over and over again.
“It doesn’t have any utility purpose,” said Mr. Beehan, “but more of an artistic, aesthetic purpose.”
At Bloomberg headquarters, most employees will pass at least once daily through “the Link”—the sixth-floor space between the building’s east and west wings. It is the building’s two-story atrium, a bustling area where employees stock up on free snacks, watching Bloomberg newscasts through the television studio’s glass walls.
“If you want any refreshments, snacks or anything—by all means—help yourself,” said Mr. Beehan. “We have free food at Bloomberg, for employees and guests.”
This is a well-known fact—and a thrilling one, for the 12-year-old in every man and woman—about Bloomberg LP. Hovering above the food-pantry counter (the casual might think of it as a cafeteria, but they would be corrected by Bloomberg LP)—where Bloomberg employees were getting coffee, bottles of
“It’s kind of the central meeting area,” said Mr. Beehan. “It goes with the theme of communication and open corporate culture. We come here in the morning, get a coffee, talk to our colleagues.”
The same kind of openness, by the way, goes on in Mayor Bloomberg’s City Hall.
In stodgier corporate headquarters, a framed painting of the company’s founder, or perhaps some early partners, might adorn the walls.
But for all of the intrinsic Bloombergness of the Bloomberg Building, there is no Michael Bloomberg here, nor any other Bloombergs. The iconic non-personality whose personality animates the entire building is instead represented by the “Bloomberg Museum.” “The Bloomberg Museum right here gives you the evolution since the early 80’s,” said Mr. Beehan. The machines on display date from 1981 through the present day, showing how the clunky, early versions eventually resulted in the more winning and slim terminals of today.
In 1981, when the 39-year-old Mr. Bloomberg and several other partners at Salomon Brothers were made redundant in a merger, he had to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Instead of becoming a partner in another firm, like Goldman Sachs, Mr. Bloomberg took the entrepreneurial route. Mr. Bloomberg’s final job at Salomon was running the Information Systems department, and after being let go—with a $10 million check in hand—Mr. Bloomberg set out to design a product that would help financial organizations.
In the mid-1990’s, the Bloomberg terminal became the electronic medium for publishing Bloomberg News, several years before millions of people would be reading The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal online.
“This is the Bloomberg Terminal,” said Mr. Beehan, who logged on to a terminal located in the Link. “This is the product that Bloomberg was built upon.”
Bloomberg Terminals have either two or three screens, and can be used for over 27,000 different functions. Mr. Beehan gamely demonstrated how one could follow Proctor & Gamble stock around the trading floor, or easily access the day’s financial news coming out of China.
Later on, in the terminal sales department, employees began clapping loudly. “We just sold a terminal,” said Mr. Beehan. He was beaming.
“This is a cool architectural feature,” said Mr. Beehan, showing off the spiral escalator that travels between the two stories of the atrium level of the building. “It’s one of its kind in the East Coast. They are building them more in East Asia. There might be two in Las Vegas. It’s an architectural feature we’re proud of.”
East Asia, Las Vegas.
WHILE TRAVELING DOWN THE SPIRAL ESCALATOR, you can still see into the television studio, which is pretty vacant-except for the newswoman in front of the camera, conducting an interview with participant shown on a large screen.
“We don’t have cameramen,” said Mr. Beehan. “It’s all controlled by computers.”
In addition to Bloomberg News programs, Charlie Rose’s television show is also taped in the building. Despite the transparency that permits employees to look in on live Bloomberg News tapings, Charlie Rose’s show is not designed like a fishbowl. With Mr. Rose seated across from his guest at a table, in a darkened room, it’s not the environment where you especially want onlookers with noses pressed against the glass as they do at Today.
Charlie Rose’s greeting room is located in full view of passersby, but the glass is somewhat frosted. Nevertheless, a curious computer programmer or salesperson on break could easily peek inside if they wanted to, through the non-frosted portions. “It gives them a sense of privacy without taking away the theme of transparency,” said Mr. Beehan of the Charlie Rose green room setup. On this day, visitors could watch Kiefer Sutherland being interviewed through the glass wall, if they wanted to. The program would be broadcast at 11 P.M. that evening.
At the end of the tour, Mr. Sutherland passed through the lobby and out onto Lexington Avenue. At the front desk, they’d have known he was coming.
The interior design of the Bloomberg building is infinitely scalable, infinitely replicable, as it has been throughout Bloomberg’s worldwide organization.
“Whether you are in London or San Francisco, it’s a similar interior design,” Mr. Beehan said proudly. “The small bureaus might be a little bit different.” London, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York. Everyplace. Noplace.
Earlier on the same day, Robby Browne, a real-estate broker with the Corcoran Group, walked through a penthouse unit at One Beacon Court, 55 stories above the ground. Of the 105 apartments in the building, which have ranged in price from around $2 to $27 million, this is the last apartment left to sell. Penthouse 55W costs $17 million.
One Beacon Court is the name given to the apartments at the top of the Bloomberg building. Since contracts were first signed in 2004, the building has gained a reputation, not unlike the AOL Time Warner Center, as a refuge for people with names: Williams, Knowles, Damon, Welch, Immelt. Someone will pay $17 million for 55W.
Mr. Brown pointed out of the enormous windows toward other buildings: the San Remo, the Empire State Building, the Plaza, its scaffolded girth just barely peeking out from behind the G.M. Building.
“You can even see the Atlantic Ocean,” Mr. Browne said, pointing into the distance.
The apartment measures 4,267 square feet, has 13-foot ceilings, a windowed eat-in kitchen, and large gallery. Its interior, as with all of the rest of them, was designed by the interior designer Jacques Grange, who has had commissions from Revlon chief Ron Lauder and fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent.
The built-ins feature special drawers that can’t be slammed.
Mr. Browne was to show the apartment to a potential buyer a little later in the afternoon.
“Most of them could get into the best co-ops,” said Mr. Browne of Beacon Court buyers. But the best coops don’t treat their residents like hotel guests, which is one of the great promises of the new breed of luxury apartment in Manhattan: 24-hour doorman, concierge, valet parking, fitness center, even a spacious room for business meetings with a large, flat-screen television.
“This is how a lot of people want to live now,” Mr. Browne said.
The restaurant is seen as an amenity for the apartments. Though Mr. Williams said he planned to save dinners at Le Cirque for special occasions, it isn’t difficult to imagine Beyonce Knowles or Johnny Damon or Jeffrey Immelt organizing regular reservations, as Louise Sunshine has done for two nights of every week from the time the restaurant opens.
“I wish it had opened two years ago,” said Ms. Sunshine, speaking of One Beacon Court’s new restaurant. “I think if Le Cirque had opened a year and a half ago, we could have increased from $3,500 to $5,000 a square foot.”
But the building is a commercial success.
“Vornado and Steve Roth have such pride in the building, making it for residents to have their own private dinners in the building,” said Ms. Sunshine.
In April 2001, on the cusp of declaring his candidacy for mayor, Mr. Bloomberg signed his 25-year lease. In the end, Bloomberg got 700,000 square feet in the new building, starting at the third floor, at a reported estimated cost of $73 a square foot.
Naming rights were not included in the deal. But the inevitability was that the latest building to pierce the midtown skyline, a building of valets and flat-screen televisions, would be known as the Bloomberg Building. What else could it be called? .
The Mayor was on hand during the May 18 opening party for Le Cirque, escorted by a tuxedo-clad Mr. Maccioni, grinning from ear to ear.
Martha Stewart, whose former personal chef serves as the executive chef at Le Cirque, was there. “I am a friend of the family and a long-time supporter of Sirio and his efforts,” she said. She had gotten inside Le Cirque even before the opening party, having had a meal there with her daughter, Alexis, the previous Saturday night.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi were there; Bill Cosby, Patricia Arquette, Billy Joel, Tony Bennett, Walter Cronkite, Joan Rivers, Ed Koch, Helen Gurley Brown, Montell Williams, Denise Rich, Jay McInerney, Armand Assante and Cardinal Edward Egan. People with names, but no B-Units.
“I think the neighborhood just went up a notch,” Brian Williams said.
“We’re very close friends of Sirio and his lovely lady, and they invited us to Italy,” said Tony Bennett. “I’ve always been a regular. It’s very personal and magnificent food and wonderful atmosphere.”
“It’s their home away from home—with a certain style,” said Sirio Maccioni two days before the opening party, and “type of food.” “The difference between many restaurants is that you hear an inhuman voice. Here, I answer the phone. My son, answers the phone. So people know that we are here to do whatever we can do.”
“I could not open a different restaurant than this,” he said. “I think I know what New York people want. I am a New Yorker. The people want to come in and feel at home.”
And, in fact, they were at home. La Guardia has an airport and Koch had a musical. But Bloomberg has a building.